Is freedom failing?

From Russia to Bangladesh, democracy is under assault. Here's what the West must do to save it

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

Nigerian election officials discuss a disputed ballot at a polling station in the main city of Lagos on April 21, 2007.

In 1999 Nigerians did something remarkable: they elected a President. After 16 years of military rule and four decades of political and economic failure, Africa's most populous country held a free election. "Globally, things are going democratically," a Lagos slum dweller told the New York Times. "We want to join the globe."

It was a good time to get on board. The percentage of democracies in the world had doubled since the 1970s, to more than 60%. Many of the remaining autocracies--pariah states like North Korea, Burma and Iran--seemed to be living on borrowed time. In ideological terms, as Francis Fukuyama...

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